Topic 1.4
Garden of Eden
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Purpose of this site is to help Christians
engage in intelligent and persuasive conversations
with doubters and unbelievers
Be prepared to answer their questions
MACRO TOPIC 1.4
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Garden of Eden

First time God speaks to man
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Tradition
What traditional Christians think

Adam ruined the whole world

The world was perfect before Adam sinned – no pain, no disease, no death. Then Adam wrecked God's paradise by eating forbidden fruit, and ever since the earth has been under God's curse as punishment for that sin.

Everyone is held guilty for Adam's sin

Everyone is a descendant from Adam and has inherited Adam's sin and guilt (known as 'original sin'). Every human being of all times and places is born guilty of that sin.

Everyone (without Jesus) will burn in hell forever

The penalty for Adam's sin is the harshest possible torment, burning in hell forever without being able to die. Everyone will be sent to hell after bodily resurrection and judgment except those who accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.

Big bang in bible
Doubters
What doubters and unbelievers think

God must not be omnipotent

If one man could thwart God's plan, God cannot be all-wise and all-powerful. It seems like lack of foresight and defective design.

God must not be just

It is certainly not justice to punish people for the offense of another person at another time and place for which they had no part or knowledge, especially those who never even heard of Jesus.

God must not be loving

Burning forever is the worst kind of torture conceivable. It may be loving to offer some people a means of salvation, but it certainly is not loving to withhold knowledge the offer from most people who have ever lived.

Big bang in bible
Questions
Barriers to faith

• Was the world perfect before Adam sinned?

• Does everyone inherit Adam's sin and guilt?

• Is sin the cause of death?

• Will all people without Jesus as Savior burn in hell forever?

Big bang in bible
Discovery
See what the Bible actually says

Man's first encounter with God

The earth had been billions of years in the making. Then God comes! And starts establishing personal relationships with humans!!

He chose one man – Adam – to make the first move from physical life to spiritual life. Man had never encountered God before, and now a whole new quality and dimension was added to human life.

People outside the Garden of Eden lived and died completely unaware of what was happening inside the Garden. As it is even to this day, for reasons we don't understand, God chooses to reveal himself to some people but not to others, mostly a consequence of historical time and geographical place (see 1.6).

GARDEN
OF EDEN
MICRO  
  1.4.1
Tap for the story from Genesis 1-3

The story

The story of the Garden of Eden – man's first encounter with God – is told in Genesis 2:8 - 3:24.

'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:15-17).

The Garden of Eden is both a time and a place. The story is well known, but highlights and major themes are in Topic 1.4.1, and answers to frequently asked questions are in Topic 1.4.2.

According to Bible genealogy (see 1.3.3), and general agreement among Bible scholars, the time was approximately 4000 BC.

The Bible says that the Garden of Eden was at or near the headwaters of four named rivers. Even though the names of two of the rivers have changed and are now impossible to identify precisely, it appears that this garden (special place) was in Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilization) between the Tigris and Euphrates, near the Persian Gulf.

Doctrinal issues

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden raises some controversial issues of Christian belief, including:

Age of earth  (Topic 1.1)
✦ People before Adam  (Topic 1.3)
✦ Cause of death on earth  (Topic 1.3.2)
✦ Inherited sin  (Topics 1.4 and 1.4.3)
✦ Time in hell  (Topic 3.5.1)
For people today, the doctrinal issues derived from the Garden of Eden story are more important than details of the story itself.

The story is covered in Topics 1.4.1 and Topic 1.4.2.

The doctrinal issues are covered in pages accessed from the linked list above, in the order in which the issues are encountered chronologically in this ORIGINS section of this site (Topic 1 series).

The Bible studies here display all relevant scripture on each issue, so you can read and decide for yourself WHAT and WHY you believe, direct from the Bible, not just repeating the tradition of early centuries.

Most Bible studies elsewhere use the fill-in-the-blanks method to affirm what most people in the group already believe, to make sure desired answers are given, and to make everyone feel good by thinking they have done real study.

The Bible studies here use the deep study method of asking any and all hard questions, gathering relevant real-world facts, objectively searching the Bible for answers, and thinking deeply about how to put it all together for coherent understanding and presentation.

As a result, some conclusions here may be unsettling for some traditional Christians who have been taught never to question what they have been told by their spiritual leaders.

Most Christians who have considered these issues only at surface level still have a subconscious internal tension that can be resolved only by studying directly from scripture and forming a personal belief that can stand tough questioning by doubters and unbelievers.

This Bible study site is completely independent and does not promote any particular denominational doctrine. Here every Christian will find plenty both to like and to dislike. This site exists only to encourage Christians to study the Bible for what it actually says and to get rich content for dialog with people who have different views.

DOCTRINE: 'ORIGINAL SIN'

everyone guilty for what Adam did

Born quilty and condemned to hell?

The story of Adam and Eve raises this theological question: Does God ever hold a person guilty for the sins of another?

How we answer this question here sets the pattern for how we understand sin and eternal life in all parts the Bible.

A majority of Christians – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – have been taught that the full guilt for Adam's sin is placed on every human being and that, without salvation through Jesus, everyone will burn in hell forever because of it, even apart from their own sins and even if they never heard of Adam. Everyone, they say, is born guilty and condemned to hell.

This doctrine is known as original sin, inherited sin, transmitted sin and ancestral sin.

None of these terms appear anywhere in the Bible.

ORIGINAL SIN
Trace to Saint Augustine 400 AD
The concept of original sin was originated long after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and formation of the early church. The doctrine did not come from Jesus' teachings but rather from the way some theologians began interpreting the words of the Apostle Paul in the 5th chapter of Romans.
The first known mention of this concept was by Irenaeus in the 2nd century. In the 5th century it was popularized by Saint Augustine and gradually became church doctrine. Luther and Calvin retained it in the reformations of the 16th century.
Predestination and purgatory are also doctrines from Saint Augustine not taught by Jesus.
TAP for reasons why people today are able to interpret scripture more accurately than Saint Augustine was able to interpret it sixteen hundred years ago ... and why people come to different conclusions at different times, based on the same original Greek text.
MICRO
1.1.1
The doctrine of original sin was constructed from these three verses:
'Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.' – Romans 5:12
'Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.' – Romans 5:18
'For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.' – I Corinthians 15:21-22
That's it! All there is!
There are 31,102 verses in the Bible, but these are the three upon which the doctrine of original sin is built.
Christians talk about original sin as through it is a theme that runs through the Bible. It is not. It is derived from just these three verses.
If Adam caused such a horrific change in human nature and the course of human history, we would expect the Bible to make more than these three vague references to him.
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Tap to open ...
Additional verses sometimes used for support

Many people over-reach with these so-called additional 'proof-texts' they say support the concept of original sin. Notice that these verses never even mention Adam.

  • Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me' (Psalm 51:5). This verse simply says that King David was born into a sinful world and that his mother, like everyone, was a sinner.
  • 'Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies' (Psalm 58:3). This verse simply says that people have free will and a sin nature which become evident at a very early age (obviously not at birth because newborn babies don't spread lies).
  • 'Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath' (Ephesians 2:3).  The verse simply says that everyone has a sinful nature (essential for free will) ... the sinful nature is why everyone sins ... for which everyone deserves punishment. This doesn't make a case for the universal guilt of Adam's sin.
ORIGINAL
SIN
MICRO
1.4.3
Deep study of Romans 5
finding answer to this question
Does everyone inherit the guilt for Adam's sin?

Deep study on original sin

The concept of original sin is derived primarily from a few verses written by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of Romans. TAP orange button to see a deep study of that scripture.

Our sin nature

The Bible teaches clearly that we have a sin nature (Romans 7:15-18), but that's not the same as saying we have original sin.

Everyone sins, individually, because of our sin nature ... our propensity to sin ... wanting to become our own god in charge of our own life.

Why do we have a sin nature? Because God gave us free will to obey or disobey. Free will would be meaningless – not free will at all – unless we sometimes exercise it in the wrong way.

Why do we have free will? Because God loves us and desires a reciprocal relationship with humans, his crowning creation, made in his image. Real love is impossible without free will.

WHAT DID JESUS SAY?

about Adam and original sin

BIBLE INTERPRETATION on this site is guided by the final words of Jesus to his disciples:
'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
'Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.'
– Jesus (Matthew 28:18)

Authority

All authority is from Jesus (verse above). Not church, not tradition, not Augustine, not even Apostle Paul.

When we must choose between two or more possible interpretations, we should always choose the interpretation most in accord with what Jesus said.

With regard to Adam and original sin, what did Jesus say? Nothing. Complete silence. Nothing there, so nothing to talk about. Jesus never even mentioned Adam's name. Jesus talked only about our own choices and our own sins.

Original sin is a concept developed by theologians hundreds of years after Jesus and is defended more on the basis of church tradition than on the actual words of scripture.

We should not add to Jesus teachings, especially when the add-on is contradictory.

Mission

Jesus said that our mission is to 'make disciples.' The doctrine of original sin is a man-made barrier to Christian faith and a hindrance to our mission. It demeans the character of God, causing doubters and unbelievers to see God as cruel and vindictive rather then as loving and just.

Also relevant

The closest thing Jesus said on the subject of inherited sin is in John 9:1-3: 'As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.''

In John 3:18 Jesus said, 'Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.' By this statement, Jesus makes it clear that condemned already is because of our own sin.

John 5:24, Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.' By this statement – will not be condemned (future tense) – Jesus is saying that people are not already condemned at birth.

John 15:22 Jesus said, 'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.' By this statement – would not be guilty of sin (conditional) – Jesus is saying that people are not born condemned.

NINE REASONS

for not believing original sin

✓ REASON 1. Jesus didn't teach it
The panel above shows that Jesus didn't teach the doctrine of original sin. That's reason enough, but there are more reasons ...
✓ REASON 2. God knew everyone would sin
'God saw all he had made, and it was very good' (Genesis 1:31). It is blasphemous to say that God didn't know what he was doing, couldn't foresee the future, and that one man could foul God's master plan. God knew full well what would happen when he gave humans free will, a risk essential for genuine love. And no person can wreck God's marvelous creation.
✓ REASON 3. God's love and justice
It is difficult to conceive of anything more unloving and unjust than to condemn billions of people – perhaps a hundred billion or more – to eternal torment for something they did not do or even know about ... without offering a means of salvation known and understood by most of them. That notion is as far from love and justice as anything anyone could possibly imagine and is contrary to God's character.
✓ REASON 4. Human free will
Responsibility and punishment for personal choices – the exercise of our individual free will as taught extensively throughout scripture – become meaningless if everyone is born with maximum guilt and already subject to maximum penalty. In fact, this notion is the same as saying that people really don't have free will, since most people have died without knowing about God's offer of salvation through Jesus and thus didn't have any choice in the matter.
✓ REASON 5. God's will
'He [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance' (2 Peter 2:9). God would not violate his own will by designing life so that everyone is doomed to perish from the moment of birth and most are given no means of salvation.
✓ REASON 6. Adam not our representative
Many Christians argue that Adam was the first person and representative of the human race, and therefore all of his descendants must also bear the guilt for his sin. Actually, Adam was probably not the first human (see 1.3), and nowhere does the Bible say that God appointed him to be head of the human race. Furthermore, nowhere does the Bible say that people are individually guilty (even though they may suffer worldly consequences) for the sins of their leader.
✓ REASON 7. Confession not possible
'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness' (I john 1:9). A theme throughout scripture is that confession is a necessary prerequisite for removing the penalty for guilt. It is impossible for us to confess original sin because we didn't do it.
✓ REASON 8. Father's guilt never inherited
'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father' (Deuteronomy 24:16). 'The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers' (Ezekiel 18:20). The Bible teaches that people will stand before God at judgment for their own sins, not for sins of their fathers.
✓ REASON 9. Bible doesn't teach it
This is a debatable statement because many Christians – maybe most – do believe that the Bible teaches the doctrine of original sin, though very few Christians have ever personally studied it from the Bible. The Old Testament never mentions it at all, and the New Testament never mentions it except possibly for three vague comments from the Apostle Paul. This Topic 1.4 and Topic 1.4.3 show all relevant Bible verses on this subject and conclude that the Bible does not teach that everyone is born with the guilt of Adam's sin. After careful study, each reader will have to decide for himself/herself.

DOCTRINE: ADAM'S SIN CAUSES ALL DEATH

paradise on earth before Adam

Human condition

The human condition, like the condition of everything else in God's creation, is that we eventually die. Death is not a design flaw or mistake. God designed everything to die, a practical requirement for continuous growth and change.

Death before there was sin

There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning in the world long before 4000 BC, the time the Bible says sin first entered the world 'through' Adam' (not 'because' of Adam;' see 1.4.3 for study of Romans 5). There been death on earth since the beginning of time.

Sin is not the cause of death

There was death on earth before sin, so sin cannot be the cause of death (see 1.3).

Most Christians believe that sin is the cause of death because that is what they have always been told, by tradition, not because of their own Bible study.

Romans 5:12, the principle verse quoted for this view, states: '...just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men ...'

The verse does not say that Adam's sin caused death in the world. It simply says that, when Adam sinned – sequence, not cause – death passed (and continues to pass) to all men. Now there is something new and different: death through sin. Beginning with the first sin, death for humans takes a new path ('through sin,' i.e., resurrection, judgment and punishment in hell, then eternal death).

In other words, sin has intervened in the life-and-death process ever since man received and violated the first law from God. Instead of simply death – like for all other creatures in God's creation – for man it is now 'death through sin, and in this way death came to all men' (NIV); i.e., resurrection, judgment and punishment now intervene before death in hell.

The good news – the 'gospel' – is that there is one exception. Instead of going through SIN to eternal death, an optional way (our choice) is going through JESUS to eternal life.

This is explained in detail in the deep study of Romans 5 (see 1.4.3) ... the study of death before Adam (see 1.3.2) ... and the study of death and hell (see 3.5.1).

Deep
Bible study
Sin is not cause of all death
MICRO
1.3.2

Some say 'spiritual death'

Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke often about 'eternal life.' It is the central theme of the Bible.

To connote the opposite of eternal life, traditional Christians often use the term 'spiritual death,' a term that is an oxymoron to everyone else. It is an invented term, not in the Bible.

'Spiritual death' is usually a polite way of saying burn in hell forever. People who use the term seem to be saying that, after bodily resurrection and judgment, death doesn't really mean death but really means living forever, in torture, unable to die.

TAP blue bar to see how this terminology is contrary both to normal usage and to the character of God.

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Tap to open ...
Problem with term 'spiritual death'

Problems with 'spiritual death' concept

Here are some problems with the common interpretation. Doesn't communicate. Like a slogan.

  • OXYMORON. It doesn't make sense to redefine 'death' to mean 'doesn't die.' The concepts of no existence and burning forever are mutually exclusive.
  • LIFE PRECEDES DEATH. It doesn't make sense to say that a person can have spiritual death without first having spiritual life.
  • COMPREHENSION. Adam could not have comprehended anything other than the ordinary death he observed before he sinned.
  • DEATH IS NOT PUNISHMENT. Birth-aging-death is the natural order of all life, existing before sin, a necessity to make room for new life and improvement. Even stars and planets die, unrelated to decisions about good and evil (see 1.3).
  • PEOPLE WHO NEVER HEARD. There were many millions of people who lived before Adam sinned (see table above). On what basis would they have eternal life in heaven? On what basis would they burn forever in hell? They simply didn't know anything about what God was doing. Who can say with scriptural certainty that they don't just die (end of existence

Death means 'death'

We should use words only in the way they are understood by others. When we use the word 'death,' people understand that to mean the end of existence, not the beginning of a new kind of existence.

What does 'die' mean?

God said to Adam: 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:16-17)

How we interpret 'die' in the story of Adam and Eve sets the pattern for how we interpret death and eternal life in other parts of the Bible.

THE INTERPRETATION ON THIS SITE is that 'die' means simply what it says: final end of existence (after physical death, resurrection, judgment and punishment). No body. No consciousness. Nothing. Eternal death. No longer any opportunity for eternal life.

The only exception to eternal death is eternal life, offered through Jesus Christ.

People who don't choose eternal life will die in hell. Not live forever in hell, but die in hell. Duration and severity in hell depends upon each person's sin and judgment. Then eternal death.

This is not what most traditional Christians have been taught, but it becomes clear from careful Bible study. See 3.5.1 for a study showing every passage of scripture that speaks directly about death and hell.

What about Children? OK, God does something special. What about adult incompetent? Adult never heard. All guilty?

DOCTRINE: BURN FOREVER IN HELL

even if never heard about Adam or Jesus

HELL / ETERNITY
MICRO
3.5.1
Tap for deep Bible study
finding answer to this question
Will people burn in hell forever?

Bible study on death and hell

When people say that everyone inherits the guilt of Adam's sin, it raises questions about how they think people will be punished for his sin.

Most traditional Christians say that people will burn in hell forever if they die without having accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.

Even people who never heard of Jesus? Burn forever?

Most traditional Christians have never done a Bible study to get answers for themselves.

TAP orange button to see all relevant verses.

WHY IT MATTERS

man-made barriers to faith

It's not about us. It's about them!
CHRISTIAN PERCEPTION
Most Christians shrug off the issue of original sin by saying that it really doesn't matter because all anyone needs to do is accept Jesus as Savior and then it's no longer an issue.
Problem is, many people are so turned off by their perception of Christianity that they never get to that point.
Getting it right is not a matter of how original sin affects us, but how it gives other people a wrong understanding of God and becomes a serious barrier to faith, contrary to our mission.
SECULAR PERCEPTION
Unbelievers think God – if he even exists – must be cruel and unjust to place such a hideous punishment on everyone, even newborn babies, for a sin they didn't commit.
This concept undercuts everything Christians can say about God's love and justice.
People can understand the idea of being punished for their own sins, with punishment commensurate with the offense, but original sin is so contrary to love and justice that it can hardly even be imagined.
Today the Bible has little or no credibility among most Millennials and GenZs – under age 38 – who now comprise the majority of the U.S. population. And no wonder when they hear such inconsistency in the way Christians talk. Christians say, in this example, that God is a loving heavenly father but at the same time portray him as a cruel monster.
If burning in hell forever for someone else's sin is what the Bible actually says, we would have to accept it. But as this study shows, that is NOT what the Bible says!
God is not honored when we perpetuate a false and repulsive impression of his character.

RELATED MICRO TOPICS

study in greater depth

Big bang in bible
Summary
Garden of Eden
  • First encounter with God. The Garden of Eden is the first time and place that man encounters God.
  • First law. God gives his first commandment (law) to man, very clear and simple.
  • First culpable sin. Man commits the first sin for which there is accountability and punishment, a clear violation of God's law, with intent to become like god. There was no guilt before the law.
  • First punishment. Man is punished for his sin by being denied access to eternal life.
  • First marriage. Man and woman are united as one flesh in marriage.
  • First promise. Satan's punishment contained a promise about Jesus, who would come as Savior.
  • First themes. This Eden story introduces the major themes of Christianity, to be understood later from the life and teachings of Jesus.
  • First theology. This story raises controversial issues about basic Christian theology – as the difference between spiritual death and final death, between original sin and sin nature – which can only be resolved by careful study of New Testament scriptures.
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